The name of this blog, Rainbow Juice, is intentional.
The rainbow signifies unity from diversity. It is holistic. The arch suggests the idea of looking at the over-arching concepts: the big picture. To create a rainbow requires air, fire (the sun) and water (raindrops) and us to see it from the earth.
Juice suggests an extract; hence rainbow juice is extracting the elements from the rainbow, translating them and making them accessible to us. Juice also refreshes us and here it symbolises our nutritional quest for understanding, compassion and enlightenment.

Wednesday 13 May 2020

We Need To Talk About Pat

In the wake of the controversial film Planet of the Humans we are beginning to have conversations we need to have.  The film has received praise and condemnation alike, and everything in between.  No matter whether you are wont to praise or condemn, it must be acknowledged that it has got us talking (albeit primarily online.)

It has got us talking about Pat.

Pat?  Who’s Pat?  There’s no mention of anyone called Pat in the film.

The Pat I’m referring to is not a person.  Pat is the right hand side of the equation I = PAT.

Anyone remember this equation?  It was devised during the 1970s, and along with the phrase “Zero Growth” from the same era, became a fairly influential part of the environmental conversation of the time.  Sadly, since then, both the equation and the phrase have been largely forgotten or ignored.

The equation?  I represents our human Impact upon the Earth.  P stands for Population, A for Affluence (consumption levels), and T for Technology.  More accurately the equation is written as I = f{P, A, T} indicating that Impact is a function of the inter-connected factors of Population, Affluence, and Technology.

Although it is not an equation that can give us a perfect and discrete solution, it does give us a way of thinking about our Impact in a way that makes sense and is easy to understand.  It is also possible to use it in a crude mathematical way (as follows.)

How Have We Done?

The year 1990 is often cited as the year to which our carbon emissions (and other impacts) need to return.  So, let’s plug some figures from 1990 and the present time into the equation.  In 1990 the world’s population was 5.3 billion, it is now 7.8 billion.  The world’s GDP (one of the best measures we have of Affluence/Consumption) increased from $US8,926 per person to $US15,469  (both in 2011 dollars.) 

Thus, today, world population is 1.472 times what it was in 1990, and consumption 1.733 times.  (For those who think in terms of percentages these are increases of 47.2% and 73.3% respectively.)

A very rough, back-of-the-envelope, calculation gives us:

            ΔI = (1.472 x 1.733) ΔT

(where ΔI and ΔT are the change in Impact and Technological innovation respectively.)  This gives:

            ΔI = 2.55 ΔT

So far, so good?  What of the other two variables: ΔI and ΔT?

We do have a way to calculate ΔI.  Since the late 1960s we have been measuring our ecological footprint and the Earth’s biodiversity.  The difference between the two (ecological footprint minus biodiversity) gives us the world’s ecological deficit.  Without going into all the data, our ecological deficit today is 1.7 times what it was in 1990 (i.e. a 70% increase.)  Now what happens when we put this figure into our equation?

            1.7 = 2.55 ΔT  which gives us ΔT = 0.67

(A quick aside: We can take something positive from this.  For technological innovations to have a moderating effect upon population and consumption growth, then ΔT must be less than 1.00.  It is – so that’s good.)

However, what if we were keen to have limited our Impact to not changing between 1990 and now?  In that case, the equation would look like this:

1.0  = 2.55 ΔT  giving us ΔT = 0.39

This is much less than 0.67.  One way to interpret this is that our technological innovations are no-where near the effectiveness and/or efficiency levels that they need to be, if our intent is to return to 1990 levels.

We need to talk about PAT.

Specifically, we need to talk about the P and A factors, as clearly, our technological innovations are not keeping up with population and consumption increases. 

Forward Projections

What if we do a projection thirty years hence, to 2050?  Estimates for 2050 world population are for an increase of 26.9% to 9.7 billion, and a consumption level of 36% higher (based on expected 3.0% annual increases.)  The equation for 2050 now looks like this:

            ΔI = (1.269 x 1.36) ΔT = 1.72 ΔT

Now, what if our technological innovation effectiveness/efficiency remains as 0.67?  Then ΔI = 1.16.  A further 16% increase in our Impact.  It’s starting to look dire.

If we wish to have no further impact upon Earth (and population and consumption per capita remain the same) then our technological innovation rate would have to reduce from 0.67 to 0.58 (1/1.72)

But, we don’t just need to keep our Impact at today’s level, it needs to return to 1990 levels (or even earlier.1)  For that to happen the equation needs to look something like this:

            1.00 = (1.83 x 2.36) ΔT, implying ΔT = 0.23

This figure (0.23) is hugely, massively, less than the figure of 0.67 that we have managed over the past thirty years.

Remember that all these calculations are rough, imperfect, and back-of-the-envelope ones.  However, what they do show is the extent of the problem.  Our technological innovations (although partially effective) are just not going to be anywhere near sufficient enough to not only halt our Impact, but to reduce it to 1990 levels.  Nor are they likely to become so.

The message from this?

We need to talk about P and A.  Specifically, we in the western, rich, nations need to talk about our consumption levels.  Currently, the western-styled, rich, nations are consuming between four and six times the world average.

Technology is not going to save us.

We must talk about our consumption.

We must talk about Zero Growth.

1. The last time that our ecological deficit was zero was in the late 1960s, so there is some argument to suggest that we really need to be getting our Impact back to the late 1960s, which of course means the need to look into our consumption levels is even more urgent.

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